Battling demons, saving Earth, etc.There’s some pretty amusing stuff in “Hellboy,” not least of which is the title character. He’s a 6-foot, 5-inch demon who works for the U.S. government. He smokes cigars, stomps around in a trenchcoat and carries a pistol about the size of a microwave oven that shoots bullets full of holy water (I think I heard that right).
Adopted by the U.S. Army after an altercation with devil-worshipping Nazis at the end of World War II, Hellboy grew to demon-manhood in the bosom of the U.S. intelligence community ― specifically, the officially nonexistent Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Apparently, his special powers, like being able to stomp things, are called upon whenever there’s a demon loose that the government needs to crush, while denying that demons exist (though Hellboy, like the Loch Ness monster and UFOs, keeps turning up in blurry photos in tabloid newspapers).
Hellboy lives in an underground government compound with what looks like about a hundred pet kittens. He has horns, but he keeps them filed down to stubs in the touching hope that he’ll fit in better with the humans. He has a shy, schoolboy crush on a messed-up Goth girl (Selma Blair) who can start fires with her mind. His best friend is a human fish named Abe who has psychic powers.
I could go on. Some clever thinking went into these characters and scenarios (which mostly means, I assume, that some clever thinking went into the comic book by Mike Mignola on which the movie is based). So you’re not spending the film rolling your eyes and looking at your watch, which is something. Really, this is a much better than average comic book movie. But that’s not setting the bar all that high (the wonderful “Spider-Man 2” notwithstanding).
Hellboy’s a likable guy ― a lonely bruiser who keeps saving the world, but is always on the outside looking in. Anyone who’s ever had even a passing interest in comic books (or comic book movies) has seen that kind of guy many times before. (We’ll see it again when the “Fantastic Four” movie comes out.) It’s well-executed, though. Ron Perlman, the actor who plays Hellboy under an undeterminable amount of prosthetics, makes him a bass-voiced sweetheart.
There’s a very nice scene in which Hellboy, jealously spying from the rooftops on his Goth-girl crush as she goes out for coffee with an FBI agent, is spotted by a little kid and winds up sitting down and pouring his heart out to him. The always-nifty character actor Jeffrey Tambor has some good bits as an officious Fed management type. There’s a likably twisted sense of humor throughout. Visually, the movie’s got some style, best shown off in the Russian catacombs where Hellboy and his posse track down Rasputin (did I mention that the bad guy is Rasputin?).
Still, “Hellboy” is what it is, which means that its emotional climax will have less to do with the work of actors than with the work of anonymous computer geeks drinking Snapple and sitting in lumbar chairs. Does a really, really huge monster show up? One does. Does it amaze us even for a second? Only in the sense that, say, a video game that comes out in 2004 is bound to be somewhat more impressive than a video game that came out in 2001. How many of these dime-a-dozen digital apocalypses does the planet need to see?
Action, Fantasy / English
by David Moll
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